Coronavirus Surge Continues in Capital Region

  • By Bae Jun-yong, Yang Ji-ho

    August 20, 2020 11:01

    Korea reported 297 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday bringing the total to 1,288 cases over the last six days. Some 88.9 percent of new infections occurred in the Seoul metropolitan region, 623 of them among members of Seoul's Sarang Jeil church.

    About a dozen had joined followers of the Presbyterian church's rightwing leader in an anti-government rally in downtown Seoul on Aug. 15. Some 989 members or those who came into contact with them refuse to be tested or cannot be found.

    Kwon Jun-wook, the deputy chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday, "We may see more transmissions among those who took part in the protests."

    The KCDC requested mobile providers SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus for lists of users who were present for more than 30 minutes in Gwanghwamun on that day.

    Police officers who were dispatched to a rally at Gwanghwamun on Aug. 15 wait to get tested for coronavirus at a makeshift facility in Seoul on Wednesday. /Yonhap

    "Tracking and isolation can only do so much to stop the spread," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters. "I believe this week marks a crossroads where we find out if this resurgence turns into a nationwide crisis or if we can contain it."

    Kwon urged residents of the Seoul metropolitan area to stay at home and venture outside only for essential purposes like work, buying food or going to hospital.

    The KCDC said infections were detected in 44 offices, 33 schools and private crammers and nine hospitals across the country. Concerns are mounting of a shortage of hospital beds. Among church members who have been infected, more than 40 percent are high-risk patients over 60, and an increase in people with serious symptoms could result in a shortage of beds at designated medical facilities.

    A lawmaker with the ruling party blamed the anti-government protest for the resurgence. "On the first day the government raised social-distancing rules, a violent protest took place in Gwanghwamun," Ko Min-jung wrote on Facebook. "Quarantine regulations were not observed, triggering mass infections."

    But some medical experts say the latest surge must date from before the rally since the virus is thought to have an average incubation period of around five days.

    "The incubation period of the coronavirus accepted by the medical community is 5.2 days on average," wrote Uhm Chang-sub at Korea University. "But cases started rising on Aug. 14, so the source must date back to at least Aug. 9 or even July 31, 14 days prior or the maximum two-week incubation period."

    Kim Woo-joo at Guro Hospital said, "The chances of transmission outdoors are significantly lower than indoors. And it rained on the day of the protest, so the rate of infection was probably even lower."

    Until Aug. 14, the day before the rally, new confirmed cases were below 50 a day, but they already surged by 155 on Aug. 15 and 267 on Aug. 16. Ma Sang-hyuk of the doctors' association in South Gyeongsang Province said, "The biggest cause of transmissions was probably increased human traffic during the summer holidays."

    Korea again reported triple-digit cases of new infections with 288 as of Thursday morning, tallying 1,576 cases over the week and bringing the cumulative total to 16,346.

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